Pippa Norris, Richard W. Frank, and Ferran Martinez I Coma (Electoral Integrity Project)
In recent years, far too many elections have ended with the major protagonists at loggerheads, parties bitterly disputing the results, and conflict spilling over onto the streets. Cries of fraud are common, especially among losers in tight winner-take-all presidential races.
When questions about the legitimacy of the outcome arises, is there reliable evidence that contests fail to meet international standards? Or are these simply sour grape attempts to undermine the rightful winners?
To provide a more systematic, credible, reliable and legitimate source of independent evidence, in early-2013 the Electoral Integrity Project launched a new pilot study seeking to provide an authoritative assessment of the quality of national elections held around the world. The Electoral Integrity Project is developed by a team of scholars at the University of Sydney and Harvard University, led by Professor Pippa Norris, in conjunction with an international advisory board, the International Political Science Association, and many partner organizations in the international community.
For the pilot study on electoral integrity, conducted in April-May 2013, the project focused upon twenty independent nation-states around the world which had held national presidential or parliamentary elections during the prior six months, (i.e. the period from 1 July to 31 December 2012).
All the data can be downloaded from www.electoralintegrityproject.com.
For each country, the project identified around forty election experts, defined as a political scientist (or other social scientist in a related discipline) who had demonstrated knowledge of the electoral process in a particular country. The selection sought a roughly 50:50 balance between international and domestic experts, the latter defined by location or citizenship. Experts were asked to complete an online survey. In total, 226 completed responses were received in the pilot study, representing just under one third of the experts that the project contacted (30%).
The idea of electoral integrity is defined by the project to refer to agreed international conventions and global norms, applying universally to all countries worldwide through the election cycle, including during the pre-election period, the campaign, on polling day, and its aftermath. The concept is seen as having eleven sub-dimensions in a sequential cycle.
The survey results are discussed in detail elsewhere but for a quick snapshot, here are the overall rankings in the countries under comparison.
Overall the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and South Korea came top of the rankings, all countries which have had a series of recent elections which are regarded as by observers and media commentators as without major flaws. By contrast, Belarus, the Republic of Congo, Angola, and Ukraine are all seen as performing poorly in elections, an assessment which is also consistent with observer reports.
Interestingly, the United States ranks 7th in the countries under comparison, similar to Mexico and slightly below several newer democracies. Thus one finding emerging from the pilot study is that greater experience of democratic elections in any society was not necessarily an accurate predictor of the perceived quality of contemporary elections.
But what were seen as the key factors driving these results? Over-simple ‘pass-fail’ judgments are of little use to reformers seeking to strengthen the process.
Table 1 below presents the more fine-grained assessments concerning the performance of each of the eleven sub-dimensions in the electoral cycle. To summarize the comparisons across each of the 100-point standardized scales, using the familiar traffic light symbols, mean assessments below 49 were categorized as ‘low’ in integrity (colored red), and those from 50 to 74 were categorized as ‘moderate’ (colored orange), while scores over 75 were categorized as ‘high’ (colored green).
The analysis shows that issues of campaign finance were regarded as most problematic across many countries, with more than half the elections seen as performing poorly. Similarly campaign coverage by the news media was highlighted by experts as another area of concern.
The results also highlight specific problems occurring in particular countries, notably the partisan and decentralized nature of gerrymandering district boundaries in the United States (an area where the US achieved its lowest score), problems of the voting process in Venezuela, and challenges of fair and equitable media coverage and campaign finance in Romania.
Thus overall the PEI index and dimensional scores help to highlight particular problems in each country which experts suggest deserve special attention by domestic stakeholders and the international community. Where flaws are identified, the next steps in the research are to establish their precise causes, their consequences, and what can be learnt from best practice to remedy the situation in the next contest.
Source: Pippa Norris, Ferran Martínez i Coma and Richard W. Frank. 2013. The Expert Survey of Perceptions of Electoral Integrity, Pilot Study April 2013:www.electoralintegrityproject.com